Texas Governor Greg Abbott suggested parents were to blame for crime in remarks made during a bill signing ceremony this week.
While listing ways to reduce crime, which included restoring God into communities, Abbott suggested, “We need better parenting, greater parental involvement.” But the governor has a record of eroding social support programs that help parents raise healthy and well-adjusted kids. If he wants better parenting and more parental involvement in Texas, he should be aware that his own politics are working against him.
Let’s be generous with Abbott here and take him at his word, even though “better parenting” is vaguery to the point of being meaningless. We can intuit what he’s getting at by his additional call for greater parental involvement, that widespread parental neglect has led to a boost in crime.
To an extent, the logic sounds reasonable. The idea that when parents are absent, children’s outcomes worsen has been borne out by child development research. Without a secure attachment to parents; without caring, empathetic adults to model prosocial values like community involvement and compassion; without boundaries built on those values, children can be lost following their own underdeveloped sense of right and wrong.
But what Abbott and his political allies neglect to understand is that parenting is deeply influenced by the cultural and socio-political environment in which it’s practiced. You can ask parents to do better, but it will never happen if you build an environment that makes it harder. And that’s what Abbott has done in Texas.
For starters, the Governor and his conservative-led legislature opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The additional federal funds would have given health coverage to 1,432,900 additional non-elderly adults in the state, including parents. That’s a huge deal considering that while 3.2 million Texas children benefit from Medicaid, there are only about 150,000 parents enrolled, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. Parents struggling with health concerns are also going to struggle to raise children. How do they become “better?”
Abbott also decided to opt-out early from a Federal unemployment program that gave out-of-work Texans an additional $300 in benefits per week. Again, many of the unemployed were parents. And during the pandemic, research has shown time and again, that additional funds have made children’s lives better by cutting poverty and hunger. It’s hard to parent better when you’re hungry and out of work.
Abbott has stressed that cutting the additional funds is a way of getting people back to work. But it’s important to know that the Texas minimum wage has remained unchanged for 12 years at $7.29 an hour — well below the national average. Abbott’s administration has refused to address the issue.
So two adults in a family of four working full-time for minimum wage in Texas would be earning less than $5,000 over the national poverty threshold. In fact, to make ends meet, these parents would likely have to work more than one job. So how, exactly, does the governor expect these parents, struggling to make ends meet, to get more involved?
And finally, what happens when parents who cannot support another child are forced to have one under the country’s most restrictive abortion laws? In fact, almost 60 percent of women who seek abortion in America are already mothers. Once you place the stress of having an unwanted child on the shoulders of a struggling family, the ability for a parent to raise children well becomes exceedingly more difficult.
This is not to suggest that impoverished and sick parents can’t raise good kids. Most do, despite the long odds stacked against them. But policies like Abbott’s make the task more stressful. And that stress has a way of being passed on to children. Research has shown that stress is toxic to families. It is linked to higher rates of divorce and higher rates of spanking (even in middle-class families) and is related to poor outcomes in school and mental health concerns in children.
Governor Abbott is dead wrong with his parent-shaming rhetoric. The parents of Texas are doing a damn fine job, and they’re doing it in spite of the awful politics he’s pushed over his tenure. They are somehow finding a way to make it work in the face of regressive government policies that prioritize religious dogma and corporate profits over the health and well-being of citizens and their children. Moms and dads of Texas are giving it all they got — it’s the system that’s failing them.
Texas doesn’t need better parenting. It needs a better governor.